Stalking the Gaps

Image: 'Mångata,' photo by Louis Vest on Flickr

[Image: “Mångata,” by Louis Vest on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer explains: “Mångata is a Scandanavian word for the path that moonlight makes on the water — a word we don’t have in English.” The word captures such a perfect experience that I’m wondering why we don’t have an English-language counterpart.]

From whiskey river:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

(W. H. Auden [source])


Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

(Annie Dillard [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Carpe Diem

The effort to be one thing and then another
Gets to one after a time,

And the young woman’s peroration
In Freshman Composition,

“I won’t sit on my hands and let the world
Slip through my fingers,”

Ceases to be something merely suitable
To repeat: it becomes

A mix of feeling eloquent beyond the decorum
Of metaphor, and one

Is abashed in spirit to have forgotten
The inexhaustible luxury

Of language: and in the poverty of this wealth
One knows one ought to be

I, and thinks of the underground, where
Error passeth away,

Where the night and the day are one,
Are one, are one.

(Jerald Bullis [source])


Life is a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency we are forced to lay our instruments down.

(A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy [source])


Those faces: the gypsies are all born old. The men are dashingly homely, as if cars have ridden over their faces. The young girls are beautiful beyond words, and the oldest women dance. But the middle-aged mothers look just like me and my friends—tired, baggy, in some need of repair. Their faces are exhausted from all that it takes to raise children on the tightrope of gypsy life. When you’re on the high wire, you have to use every ounce of grace and skill and awareness and loyalty you can muster just to get to the other side. But that’s the gift, to have to use that kind of attention and focus, and it shows up around your eyes…

But oh, the old women dancing: the old women who shine with the incredible stirring of spirit that has kept them lit over the years, even though the winds howl all around them. It’s so different from when old women dance at our parties, and people nudge each other with their elbows because it’s sort of cute and horrifying at the same time, like having the dead or hidden insist on stepping out onto the dance floor, like watching Great-Grandma Adrienne attempt the Macarena. But the crowd of gypsies—squatters and outlaws, outside in winter, huddled together at train stations, cold and exposed—stands around while the music begins to play. Then the old women seem to cackle, Oh, what the hell, and they start dancing. They’ve stopped chasing anything down, and you feel the rush of life force that this frees up inside them. Their gnarled witchy fingers are on the carotid artery of the culture, the link between the living and the dead, and in their faces and their bodies and their movement, you see the beauty of having come through.

(Anne Lamott [source])


Aside: Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts,” cited on whiskey river this week, is an old favorite here. It was the subject of a blog post of its own, waaaay back in Running After My Hat‘s early days.

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